If you have a spare 6 minutes, go to this YouTube link and watch a video of Ukrainian teenager Anastasiya Shpagina applying make-up to one of her eyes. She is doing so to give the impression that her eye is larger than reality, and almost fantastical, mimicking the female eyes that we are so used to seeing in animated films and features, from Disney to the Japanese cartoons on which she is said to have modelled this look. The video is fascinating, and of itself a work of art; Anastasiya carefully and masterfully uses shades and techniques to create the impression that her eye is significantly wider and rounder than it is, and of itself â€“ in the cocoon of the video, for the 6 minutes you will watch this transformation happen – this is impressive.
But step back from the film, and the story is less appealing. Anastasiya is only 19, and we know little about her other than that she expressly wants to reproduce the Japanese ‘anime’ wide-eyed, large-headed look, to the extent that she has adopted a Japanese name, has reportedly lost weight (she is around 6 stone, reports say), and is said to be considering surgery on her eyes to make them permanently larger. The ‘art’ of her make-up skills suddenly seems less appealing – and grotesque, even – while the thought that younger, impressionable girls (who have been brought up to believe that the doe-eyed Disney look equates to beauty and desirability) might consider adopting this radical approach to their appearance, is quite sinister.
For better or worse – actually, for worse – Anastasiya has become defined in the public eye (and to a large extent, watching her other videos, in her own eyes) by her appearance, and little else seems of importance about her. In itself, this is a terrible message to be sending out, and although many of the comments on her activity reflect that people feel uncomfortable with the unreality of her appearance, many do not, and even those who do, often fall into the trap of commenting largely on how she appears, rather than who she is, and why she is portraying herself as she does. She is of course a real person, and we need a reality check here. As Art, there is nothing wrong with what Anastasiya is doing. As an example to others, however, there is something very wrong. Moreover, looking at the sponsors’ trailers, there is evidence that this may turn into a means of employment for her, and this should make us very uncomfortable, as we witness, once again, the reinforcing, of the connection we have built between success for women and (a narrow definition of) their physical ‘beauty’.
But then maybe I am wrong. Maybe we need such extreme examples to show us how we have gone too far in focusing on women’s external appearance as one of the prime ways by which we judge them. Maybe we need such grotesqueness, masquerading as Art, to shake our sensibilities, and to help us grow up and move beyond the tyranny that grips women – and increasingly men – and that focuses far, far more on how they look than on what they do.